Aer Lingus passengers risk high phone bills if they don’t switch to airplane mode

Aer Lingus passengers who do not switch their phones to aeroplane mode are at risk of exceptionally high phone bills.

According to a report by the Irish Times, a transatlantic passenger was charged €300 by his network AT&T; despite his phone being kept in the overhead locker for the duration of the flight.

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What’s the point of aeroplane mode?

Aeroplane mode (also known as flight-safe mode) prevents your phone from emitting radio or transmission signals. It’s common practice for commercial airlines to request users to switch to this mode, as phone signals can interfere with the pilot’s audio system.


According to pilot Nikita Schmidt, a phone’s radio emissions can be very strong. “You may have heard that unpleasant [beeping-type] noise from an audio system that occasionally happens when a mobile phone is nearby,” she told Forbes.

"It is not safety critical, but is annoying for sure."

This noise is caused by the phone trying to connect to a cell tower – and the same thing can happen while up in the air. If you’re flying without aeroplane mode enabled, your phone may try to connect to the plane’s radio system. "I actually heard such noise on the radio while flying," Nikita said. "It is not safety critical, but is annoying for sure."

Nikita went on to say, “If 50 people on board are inconsiderate enough and can’t be bothered to switch their cell radio off, there will be fifty phones constantly looking for cell towers at maximum power. That is a lot of radio pollution,” she said.

Phone charges

An Aer Lingus spokesperson said if a phone is not switched onto flight mode, it “may connect to the in-flight roaming network and the guest will be billed by their home operator for any usage”.

This is backed up by a spokesperson for AT&T, who told the Irish Times, “the charges were racked up by antennas installed on the plane that operate outside an unlimited international roaming plan".


“The antennas can automatically connect with phones that are not in flight mode and run up charges," they explained, "even when the phones are not in use.”

These charges are paid solely to the network provider; with Aer Lingus saying they get no financial gain.

We've all been warned.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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